Discombobulated. It’s a word that passes in and out of trendiness (out at the moment) but perfectly characterizes my state of being right now. I chuckled at the dictionary definition, which is amusingly alliterative. Synonyms include: bemusement, bedevilment, bewilderment and befuddlement. That describes the ebb and flow of feelings I have experienced lately and which I have had to acknowledge and then wrestle into their rightful places as passing acquaintances rather than lifelong friends.
That’s the thing about feelings. They come and go as life unfolds, waxing and waning in tune with our experiences. Some alert us to problems we must solve, others to dangers we must avoid. Some help us to enjoy our blessings, others to grieve over losses. We embrace some with pleasure and want to boot others out the door as soon as possible. Whatever our view of feelings and how useful (or not) they may be as guides along life’s way, they are a foundational part of being human.
My own particular challenge is to recognize how they skew my view of reality. I tend to judge how life is going based upon how I feel about it at any one time. Thus, emotions tend to become the guides leading my faith along instead of the other way around. Jesus could be holding my hand and chatting with me along the way, but I’d be enacting little dramas with Mr. Fear or Ms. Happy-Clappy and forget he’s even there. Thankfully, he seems to know how to get my attention back to our own relationship again and these brief dalliances with passing acquaintances fade away into insignificance. Well, they do until another day dawns with all its unexpected twists and turns.
Lately though, discombobulation has been a constant and enduring companion. I can’t get rid of it because life will not settle down into any predictable pattern, neither in its circumstances nor in my head. Since I like to feel that I’m in control of at least a few important areas of my existence, I kind of flail around trying to make something settle down and submit itself to my little ministrations. If there are titanic eruptions of anger and violence in the Middle East, then at least I can arrange my house just so. If rumblings of change approach in my living situation, I can borrow from the future and dream about how things might be in a better city, in a different job. If storms batter a relationship, I can spend hours reading novels or watching programs where good triumphs over evil or someone else’s life is a train wreck compared to mine. In short, my heart cries out for stability in an increasingly volatile world. Do you ever think or feel this way?
If my Twitter feed is any indication, there are lots of people who are experiencing a similar sense of unrest. Some are disturbed by political situations, some by traumas brewing in different parts of the world, some by personal experiences. A wide variety of pundits present many and varied answers to the problems. It can be quite unsettling to listen to all the competing voices out there shouting, “This is the way – follow me”.
In this vein, I’ve noticed that Christians too are having some heated discussions on-line, in cafes, in denominational meetings – anywhere that two or three are gathered. Some are old fights, brought out and dusted off for one more go-around, while others are newer issues arising out of challenges from the surrounding culture. Whatever the issues, the whole thing can be very unsettling for all concerned. Even those who enjoy the stimulation of a good argument are starting to sound a bit frazzled around the edges. The push is on to bring about change or to resist it, depending on one’s point of reference, but most of all we want resolution. We want the clashing chords to resolve into a satisfying coda that releases the tensions and allows us to rest from our struggles.
Is it wrong to want stability in the midst of disruption? I think it’s a natural thing for we human beings to seek after security and peace in our lives and in the world around us. Why shouldn’t we yearn for solid answers to ring like clarion calls through the cacophony of opinions out there? When circumstances of life change unexpectedly or relationships falter, it can feel like the ground under us is shifting and we need something immovable to grab on to so we don’t fall and get hurt. It makes sense to want to protect ourselves from pain, loss and disappointment. But if the instability in the world is reflected in the Church as well, what on earth can we rely upon to get us through the shaking and shifting?
I think that, as Christians, this is where a paradox arises. We know in our heads that we are to trust in God through all circumstances and yet God doesn’t always stop the shaking or rescue us from painful trials. We may believe that knowing God’s Word is foundational to a life well lived, but we can still get confused about how we should proceed along our own particular way. God doesn’t always make the answers perfectly clear and it doesn’t help that there are so many competing voices out there, both secular and Christian.
So, if keeping my house in order, my daydreams lively and my theological ducks in a row is not enough to stabilize me in today’s world, what am I to do? I could quit looking at the Twitter feed. What I don’t know won’t worry me, right? Next, I could barricade myself behind a strong doctrinal position and tell all challengers to “talk to the hand”. I might dispense with daydreams – any dreams, really – and hunker down in my safe job in my safe town in my strong and free country.
In theory, that sounds good, but in practice I’ve found that trouble is kind of like a water torrent. It eventually finds a way to breech the barriers. I can do as much as possible to ensure a peaceful, uneventful life, but I’ve been learning that the more I try to be in control of my life, the less I enjoy it. Eventually, I start to shrivel inside, like the addict whose world shrinks as she becomes more and more focused upon getting the next fix. The paradox is that the more destruction I ward off, the more I have to concentrate on keeping it that way and the less free I am to live the “abundant life” that Jesus talked about (John 10:10).
I don’t think that God appreciates this type of siege mentality. Jesus told his followers not to fret, not to be anxious, not to worry. They were not to allow feelings like that to dictate how they lived. Instead, they were to “have faith” and trust that God would provide for all their needs.
How do we have such faith? We can forget about training ourselves into it. It doesn’t work that way. Apostle Paul says that faith is a gift from God – a matter of grace. We don’t earn it and we can’t follow “10 easy steps” to improve it. According to the book of Hebrews, faith grows and develops through looking at Jesus. We can’t hide ourselves away from every trial, every disaster in the world or every upset to our understanding of how things work. What we can do is remember who walks with us through it all and rely upon him to be the one in control.
There is something about focusing on Jesus that widens our outlook and frees us to live as we are meant to. That sounds a lot better to me than cowering in a corner. So, I’ve decided to nod and wave at feelings as they come and go, but keep looking ahead, at the one who goes before me and lets me hold his hand for stability.
As I was thinking about all this one day, I came across a little nugget of encouragement while browsing my Twitter feed (ironic, I know). A fellow Christian quoted Richard Rohr, who said:
“Paradox keeps you a little insecure and when you can’t keep yourself balanced, that is when you fall into the grace of God.”
I can’t think of a safer place to land. Can you?
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
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